As a Dad who works from home, I sometimes have the opportunity of my seven year old daughter, Faith, being at home while I am working. The other day she made an observation that hit me deep “Dad, you don’t smile as much when you’re working.” It got me thinking that evening – what would business be like through the eyes of a seven year old. I thought back over the past three years on situations I have dealt with as an entrepreneur that closely mirrored those that Faith has dealt with at school. I came to the following conclusions:
Smile More, Negotiate Less
The comment about smiling was a tough one. Had I really become “that businessman?” The business equivalent of the old man that yells at the kids to get off his lawn. As I sat thinking about Faith’s comment, it hit me – as a seven year old, you don’t position yourself for opportunity; no, you just smile. It made me think about how as we get older our egos get more involved in our personality and we start positioning in things we do. Positioning in relationships, negotiations, content we write, phone conversations, emails, the texts we send, etc. I watch Faith in situations with her friends and outsiders, she just gleams that genuine smile and there is no need for positioning (other than when she wants the stuffed animal she just saw at Target). I think as entrepreneurs we need to start smiling more and negotiating less. Let’s build stronger relationships, like we did when we were kids in the schoolyard. We could’ve cared less back then how the email was written or how the text would be perceived – no, we thought about our friends, how we should be kind and work together through our differences in order to keep our friendships solid and we just smiled.
Faith always asks me “do you ever see the people you text and email?” I’m fortunate that many of my business colleagues are my best friends. But, even as much as I see many of my colleagues, my day is inundated with a fair number of impersonal emails and connection requests. I watch Faith as she heads to the playground and talks with the other kids. There is no need to break out the Google Calendar to schedule an introductory call. No, the conversation in sparked right there. Do you like Harry Potter? Oh, me too – do you want to be Harry or Ron? Off they go. I find that as I get older, technology has become a crutch for creating impersonal relationships. It’s the new “arm’s length” in arm’s length transaction. How many times have you opted for email to diffuse a situation versus a real conversation? When was the last time you called a colleague just to see how they were doing (let alone stop by their office)?
The Thirst For Knowledge
It’s amazing watching Faith at school. It’s another world being on the side of the parent as your child goes through their early learning years. What amazes me most is their constant thirst for knowledge. Kids are not “know it alls,” they are “learn it alls.” I can’t keep enough education heading Faith’s way. If learning was a fire hose, she would want it turned on full bore even if it was too much for her to handle. As we get older we seem to stop or slow down our learning. I think this comes from the fact that we stop listening. We become jaded that we have all the answers and discount those around us. I once had a fellow colleague ask me – are all those online courses and seminars really worth the time invested? My take is yes. If I learn just one thing that makes me a better businessman, better connector, better dad, better husband, better friend, it is worth it – plus, I like to stretch my brain. As kids we were sponges, as adults we become hardened like rocks not letting new ideas seep in. We need to get back to the days when we thirsted for knowledge.
Time Is On Your Side
As kids we never stopped trying or learning. I figure the reason why we never stop trying or learning was because we had no concept of time. Now, as adults many of us have the following concept of time – “If I spend time doing this, I won’t have time to do that.” Many would say time is not our ally. However, to a kid, time is all you have. For kids, they have all the time in the world to learn and try new things. When was the last time you saw a child trying to learn to walk and then give up and actually never walk because it was not worth their time? As adults, we look at time as sacrifices. Don’t get me wrong, understanding time and its value is important. It’s how we perceive time which is our greatest asset. As kids we did things we liked or challenged us – regardless of time. As adults, many times we do what is placed upon our shoulders by others and what is easiest or convenient out of our “respect” for time. We can have time to come up with new ideas, time to learn, time to connect and develop deeper meaningful relationships – as long as these are the things we are passionate about and make a priority.
Forgive & Forget
It’s hard to believe that at 6.5 years old, my daughter would be faced with her first bullying incident. We had to discuss why bullying happens, how to diffuse it and all the other conversations that lead to forgiveness and praying for the bully. One thing I learned is that kids are amazingly resilient and amazingly caring. The child that was bullying Faith ended up turning out to become one of Faith’s good friends. They worked out their issue and Faith not only forgave the child; but, continues to actively be engaged in their friendship. There was no grudge, there was no backlash; no, there was only forgiveness and future. As adults, we let our ego get the best of us and we decided that there is a “right” and a “wrong” and how could we be wrong? Instead of moving on, we bottle up the anger from the blow our ego took and do our best to take it out on the one that created the “offense.” A good way to live, no. Does this mean that after every conflict we will all be singing kumbaya? No. However, so much more could be accomplished in the business world if we just would forgive, forget and move on like we did when we were kids.
Strength In Numbers
Ever watch kids at the mall in the play area? It’s funny, it’s almost as if they are stronger in numbers than they are as individuals. I watch the bigger kids help the little ones up onto the big plastic toadstools (to the dismay of the little ones’ parents). I watch as girls go timidly into the mix of the kids and soon have new best friends (even if it’s just for that 30 minutes). As we get older I see a tendency to start isolating. I think this occurs as we don’t want others to see our inner turmoil or see our hurts, limitations and past experiences. We have a tendency to shut ourselves off to the one thing we need most – a support group. I watch as social media distances real relationships. I watch as fake personas (what my Dad always referred to as “the chameleon complex”) rear their ugly heads. What happened to going out, being ourselves and simply seeking friends (or business colleagues) that prop us up and we prop them up? What happened to building strong long term relationships that we say “will never go away?” What happened to helping the other guy up onto the toadstool?
Kids love to play, it’s just a fact of life. I have yet to meet a kid that doesn’t love to play – give a kid a stick and it’s a sword or a magic wand. Give an adult a stick and they will throw it away with the rest of the yard scraps. It’s almost cruel in a sense that as we get older our bodies are less susceptible to play; but, as kids we played all the time. I find the hard part, as an adult, is making work fun and playful. We have to “adult” all day long; so, how can we create play at work? As kids we used our imaginations, as adults we use our reasoning. I think it is time that we start using our imaginations again. Bring back new levels of fun in our work. Find a new play factor in what we are doing. Is it easy? No – we aren’t kids anymore. But, we can try.
Simple observations that I thought you might like. Does it sound naive – maybe. But remember, it worked for us as kids and we had fun at the same time. Next time you are confronted with a situation at the office, ask yourself “what would my seven year old self do?